Sunday, November 2, 2008

"Harvest of Changelings" by Warren Rochelle

Title: "Harvest of Changelings"
Author: Warren Rochelle
Pages: 320
Publisher: Golden Gryphon

“Harvest of Changelings” by Warren Rochelle is an interesting and a very unconventional member of the urban fantasy tradition. His characters are children in the age between nine and thirteen, who are half fey and the story is largely coming of age, but the novel itself should not be recommended to early teens just yet for the unspeakable things the characters have endured. In that sense “Harvest of Changelings” is quite untypical.

Malachi Tyson is a half fairy, his mother being Daoine Sidhe and the Prime Mover for her people back in her land. Now after his tenth birthday his life turns into an unexpected chain of events, when his powers begin to violently manifest. He carries the element of win inside of him and can fly, teleport and levitate objects. At the same time three other children from mixed human-fey heritage start the same school as Malachi and develop their own special gifts connected the remaining elements fire, water and earth; Malachi being the most potent one. The four children walk a long road to deal with their past, their selves, their new powers, finding each other and fight the dark fey, Fomorii. The Fomorii have united with the dark practitioners of North Carolina to use the children’s powers on Halloween to win the war against the light fey. As October approaches the paranormal reigns in North Carolina and chaos ensues. Malachi, Jeff, Hazel and Russell must find the gate to Faerie, where they have been called to, fight against those, who wish to harm them and hide their powers from society.

Unlike most urban fantasy novels, the protagonist isn’t one lone wolf trying to face all the dangers of the transition through the paranormal all alone. Even though the topic of adolescents embracing the powers of the four elements has been done before, namely the popular comic book series “W.I.T.C.H”, to incorporate a team of interconnected characters on a magical level hasn’t been popularized in novels yet. We have one main protagonist and secondary characters of various degrees. Rochelle’s changelings are a tag team, who is only strong, if all are together and act as one unit. However the story deals with the outsiders, the one repressed from society, who have suffered in the world and are strong only through love, friendship and when they are together.

In this sense Rochelle stresses on the most common problems, which can destroy a human being at an early age and which sadly have become a common trait of growing up. Malachi has dealt with humiliation all of his life for his size and color of the eyes, something superficial, which shouldn’t matter, yet that has destroyed his confidence. Jeff has been molested by his father for a very long time, thus detaching himself from the world and thinking that all love in the world is only painful. Russell has been the victim of his father’s physical and verbal abuse for most of his life, leading him to believe he isn’t worth anything, while Hazel suffers from the invisibility complex, never really sure that she is loved. The deep psychological angle interested me more in how the children interacted with each other and given their new surroundings, rather than the fantastical aspect of the story.

Regarding the actual magic and lore of the novel’s lore, I was satisfied most of the time. Rochelle’s main tool to introducing the changelings to their homeland and their call is the dreams, which always have smeared the lines of reality. The sense of not knowing whether something is just a part of your imagination or if there is a side of the world, unexplained and unrevealed to the human eye, intensifies the reader’s experience. During the course of the novel the characters discover and learn to control their powers, which for me worked out pretty well. Fantasy is when the magic comes out of nowhere and begins to surprise you. Everything is new for the character and you live through these moments as well.

As much as I enjoyed the story itself, I felt like the delivery lacked in certain ways. First of all, even though the four children stand for one of the elements, we only experience Malachi and Russell exhibit an active manifestation of their respective element, namely air and fire. It is hinted that Jeff stands for water for his attitude and dreams and Hazel for Earth for her connection with her cat. But they do not show anything besides the typical flight, aura sensing and levitation of objects. I am also not particularly fond of the stereotypical Black and White portrayal of both fey courts and the bit clichéd black practitioners. I would understand that if the novel is YA, that a more simplified version of the age old battle between the fairy courts should be presented, however Rochelle sets the bar high with emotionally complex and deeply wounded characters that go through things YA novels don’t usually deal with like child abuse, homosexualism, eating hearts and sex. The novel builds and grabs the attention in more ways than possible and then when the real confrontation with the past and the future, the delivery of the climax fails.

“Harvest of Changelings” was a different altogether for me. In some very wonderful ways it made my imagination bubble and expand, while in other moments it pushed my buttons enough to twitch. The cover for the novel is not the catchiest thing in the world and the publisher isn’t a big one, but the title has more merit and tries something new than most novels on the market. I may have not liked all, but I do recommend this to all fey fans and because different people like their fantasy served in a different plate.

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